Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Geogre Reads a Who

Pelham Bay, Bronx, NYC, NY

Yesterday, I had one of those experiences that refuted what Seneca once wrote...or maybe it confirmed it:

"It is when the gods hate a man with an uncommon abhorence that they drive him into the profession of a schoolmaster." -- Seneca

I took a relative to the hospital. We had been told to do so, told to get admitted, and then to get tested like crazy and let all the chemists run all the fluids and tissues through every instrument in the joint. Ever obedient to authority figures, especially those with spiffy white coats, we went two and a half hours by car to the hospital. We then waited an uncomfortable and bone jarring three and a half hours on insufficient furniture meant for those moribund and unconscious.

No parent should bury a child, and yet all children are expected to bury a parent. It's one of the rites of age. I've got to tell you, if you haven't done it yet, it's not easy, and I think no parent should bury a child because all parents have had to deal with their own parents' losses. I am, blessedly, not anywhere near this position yet (well, it's hard to say, but there was a reprieve). I have gone from a clueless and hesitant maturity to a baffled middle age, but I suppose I am not alone. The most assured of us are simply choosing to pretend to know what we're doing and then find that the pretense has value.

Anyway, I had three hours there. I noticed that others had been in that examination room before us, and they had been as uncomfortable and bored as we. It's always assumed that one is not the maiden illness of an ER suite, but this time I had evidence. Ron had been there. Ron had been bored, and Ron had been equipped with a sharp implement and a ballpoint pen, for, inside the door, Ron had written:

"Ron was hear" -- Ron.
He had then carved "RON" in a FUTHORC on the door's simulated wood. I quipped, "I'll bet Ron never wrote on the inside of the schoolhouse door."

Driving back the 2.5 hours after we were kicked out of the hospital by an overworked attending, I played the antonym game. The antonymn game is a game of my own invention, invented last night, and I recommend it to anyone driving through a city. Here's how it's played: every time you see a sign for a commercial venture, you must come up with a new name that is composed of antonymns of each of the words in the original name, and these antonymns should capture, if you're good, something witty. For example, I went by the Econo Inn. Now, you could offer up "Richie Out," but that would be inferior to my final candidate last night, "Waste Away." "Taco Bell" can be inverted with "Souffle Cup," as a souffle is a dome opposite of a taco's parabola, and a bell is a cup until it's struck.

So, there I was, thinking how much more clever I am than Ron and how lucky I was that Ron wasn't in my class. Then again, Ron is one of my best buddies from my years in college. Ron mowed lawns for a living and constantly dreamed of doing better. He and his brother lived in a small apartment, and Ron was a great spirit, a wonderful person and the real salt of the earth. He was honest, harder working than I've ever been, and fun to be with.

One night, my band was playing at an "alternative lifestyle" club back in the 1980's, and we didn't have a term like "alternative lifestyle" to talk about such clubs. The thing was, punk rockers and gay clubs were fast allies from the start. The most culturally adventurous people with refined taste (and with horrible taste...what's with all that wretched disco?) were in the gay community. Anyway, it was "Ladies Night" at The Celebrity Club. There was exactly one woman present, and she came with us. However, there were quite a few convincing drag queens and a few transgendered people who were quite well integrated. There were "girls" in miniskirts and fishnet hose dancing on the bar. Ron arrived to support the band, and I think he even liked our music as well as us personally, and he and I sat down for a beer.

I noticed Ron's eyes drifting upward, slowly climbing the legs of the dancer. I said, "Ron, don't." He said, "What?" I said, "No. Seriously, Ron: don't." "Whaaat?" he asked. I shook my head and tried to figure out how to explain to him why, beyond the usual rules of decorum, he should keep his eyes on his beer, but Ron used that thinking time to try to get some profit.

"Oh, man!" Ron shouted.

"I told you!"

"I thought you were...."

"No," I said. "I meant it."

"Oh, man! Oh, man!"

So Ron's a great guy. (Of course, the Ron I knew wouldn't have carved on a door, and I think he could spell difficult words like "here.") I thought, as I played the antonymn game on the way home, "I don't need to teach Ron anything. He can't spell, but it doesn't matter." Ron's inscription was much more literally true, much more of a synonymn game than my original sneer gave him credit for. What, after all, is the point of this blog? What is the point of any graffiti (which is what the blog is)?

Ron was heard. Ron was there eternally. He was always in that room, always waiting for the doctors to pay attention to him. He was visible in a way that other patients weren't, because he was part of the room now.

That's where my sermon-like blog essay should end, with this "aha" moment. After all, I have achieve my ironic counterpoint, and you have seen how clever I really am. I have demonstrated my superiority to Ron and my sympathy. I've proven that I'm humble at the same time that I've shown my pride. That's not where it ends, though.

First, the realization of my own complicity in this rhetoric is an occupational hazard. However, there is more and worse. I sat patiently for three hours in that 8x10 room while my loved one ached on an uncomfortable "bed" and struggled to breathe. I cheerfully openned a book and read to my loved one, trying to pass the time. I jotted notes in a notebook. I looked at papers to grade (and didn't grade them; for some reason I was distracted). I had a pocket knife, and it stayed in my pocket.

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